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Watch: Florida Beachgoers Rescue Stranded Mako Shark
People are beautiful sometimes.
The typical narrative surrounding sharks is usually antagonistic; either a shark is doing something nasty to a person or a person is doing something nasty to a shark. It’s a well-trod formula, dating back to at least 1975 when Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster, Jaws, hit theaters and redefined humanity’s relationship with sharks. Sometimes, however, we have the good fortune of a feel good story between people and their toothy aquatic friends.
Recently, a couple vacationing in Florida came face to face with a beached Mako shark and wasted no time jumping into the water to help it.
A Wedding Anniversary Turned Shark Rescue Mission
Texas resident Tina Fey (not that Tina Fey) and her husband Josh were on vacation at Pensacola Beach, celebrating their first anniversary with a day of Sun and sand when a large Mako shark beached itself right in front of them. Beachgoers had previously noticed dark fins cutting above the water before the shark charged the shore at high speed and stranded itself on the beach.
Fey began recording while her husband, Josh, got to work wrestling the shark back into the water, with help from a handful of folks nearby. “Babe, look at them freaking teeth,” Fey can be heard saying in a video posted to Facebook. At the time of writing, the video had been seen more than 231,000 times.
The footage makes clear that the shark is in bad shape, and at one point an onlooker can be heard asking if it is dead. That question is settled a few moments later when the shark begins thrashing in the shallow water. Meanwhile, four people are behind it trying to drag it to safety. There is a moment when the rescuers could have found themselves between an angry shark and the open ocean. “Babe, it’s too dangerous, don’t’ be doing that,” Fey can be heard shouting.
According to Fey’s Facebook post, the group contacted lifeguards and wildlife authorities for assistance but were told there was nothing to be done. Not satisfied with that answer, they took matters quite literally into their own hands. After a moment of violent thrashing, rescuers return to the water, grab hold of the Mako by the tail, and drag it into deeper waters. Once the shark is nice and submerged, it takes a moment to gather its bearing and swims gently away.
Strandings (commonly called beachings) are a common and tragic occurrence, especially for large marine animals. To make matters worse, we don’t have a good understanding of why animals become stranded, and it’s likely there are a number of factors at play. In many cases, a stranded animal died shortly after stranding, even if it is helped back into the water. In some cases, animals who are stranded and rescued will strand themselves again soon after. That suggests some underlying cause, rather than an accidental wrong turn onto a shallow beach.
Scientists have gathered evidence to suggest that strandings can be caused by noise pollution, confusion, and disease. In particular, there is some evidence that at least some shark strandings are driven by meningitis causing infection and inflammation in the brain. In those cases, rescuing a beached animal might only be buying them some time.
A couple of days after the shark stranding and rescue, swimmers found the body of a dead Mako sitting on the seafloor near the site of the incident. At this time, it’s unclear if it’s the same shark, but given that the stranding was likely caused by some underlying factor, it wouldn’t be all that surprising. Even if it is, it doesn’t minimize the heroic efforts of beachgoers.
“I just didn't have the heart to let it die. Especially since it seemed to have a lot of fight left. If it had half the chance to live, I wanted to give that chance to her/him!!” Fey said.
For more shark close encounters, check out the complete Jaws series, available from Universal Pictures.